Anderson Silva looks to be without a viable title challenger for the time being. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
The way things have been going in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s chaotic middleweight division, was it really all that surprising that Michael Bisping -- the No. 1 contender in waiting -- went down to Vitor Belfort in spectacular fashion on Saturday at UFC on FX 7?
Say what you want about Bisping’s chances to be competitive against reigning champion Anderson Silva, but the matchup would have made sense had “The Count” delivered in Brazil. It had marketability -- the outspoken Brit is a fighter people love to hate -- and momentum, as Bisping had won five of six. In a weight class where viable challengers have been dropping like flies, sometimes that is all you need.
Leave it to Belfort to spoil the party. As good as “The Phenom” looked in earning victory outside of the opening frame for the first time in his UFC tenure, the memory of his front kick knockout loss to “The Spider” is far too fresh for Belfort to warrant middleweight title consideration again. Besides, based on his post-fight comments, the former 205-pound ruler has his sights set on a rematch with Jon Jones, whom he lost to at UFC 152.
As for Bisping, the painful number is 18 and counting, as in the number of occasions he has stepped into the Octagon without receiving a title shot. There is no question that he remains one of the top 185-pounders in the world, but it looks more and more likely that he could end his career without ever vying for middleweight gold.
“Sorry guys. Wasn’t good enough tonight. Fair play to Vitor, well done. Thanks to everyone for the kind support, will be back soon,” Bisping tweeted shortly after Belfort’s head kick dashed his dreams.
There is no shame in losing to an opponent as talented and dangerous as Belfort. In fact, all of Bisping’s UFC defeats -- Rashad Evans, Dan Henderson, Wanderlei Silva, Chael Sonnen and Belfort -- have come to the best of the best. This is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately MMA world, however, and we do not have time to dwell on paying tribute to a man who has once again been relegated to the role of bridesmaid.
Looking ahead, only two men in Sherdog.com’s most recent 185-pound Top 10 rankings are appealing candidates to square off with Silva in the near future: Chris Weidman and Luke Rockhold. They were ones who gained the most from Bisping’s misfortunes, and, judging from their Twitter feeds, both know it.
“I’m ready and healthy to fight whoever the [UFC] wants,” Rockhold wrote. Not that he was suggesting anything or anyone in particular.
Added Weidman: “I’ll be back in summer and that’s when Anderson wanted to fight ... coincidence? I think not.”
The rest of the rankings include the been-there-done-that set (Sonnen, Belfort, Yushin Okami) the missed-opportunities club (Bisping, Brian Stann, Mark Munoz) and one newcomer (Constantinos Philippou). Another intriguing option, recent Strikeforce import Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, has an obvious conflict of interest.
Back in July, Weidman looked like a breakout star when he dismantled Munoz at UFC on Fuel TV 4. A shoulder injury forced him out of bout against Tim Boetsch at UFC 155, however, and by the time he is ready to return this summer, his name will not have quite the ring it did a year ago. Silva and his camp were hardly keen on facing Weidman even after his dominant victory over Munoz. After the Serra-Longo Fight Team product has spent a year on the sidelines, their response toward him figures to be lukewarm at best.
As for Rockhold, it is unlikely that Team Silva would be thrilled about defending the belt against a former Strikeforce champion who has yet to establish a secure foothold in the UFC. Rockhold has looked solid in recent victories over Keith Jardine and Tim Kennedy, but neither win raised his profile significantly.
With potential super fights against Jones or Georges St. Pierre still looming, Silva needs to be firmly convinced that another adversary is worth his time. It is already clear that “The Spider” will not be pushed into doing what he does not want to do, but if those dream bouts do not come to fruition, he might have to compromise and face something less than an established superstar. At any rate, the path to earning the respect of the middleweight ruler is long and arduous, and many never get a chance to look Silva eye-to-eye at the top of the mountain. Just ask Bisping.
After Bisping’s defeat, the middleweight title picture remains as murky as ever, with losses and injuries doing a number on more than a few of the division’s hopefuls. From here, that picture can only get clearer.
Star Power ProblemsGive Bellator Fighting Championships credit for going all out for its big Spike TV premiere.
The two title bouts on the main card broadcast -- Pat Curran vs. Patricio Freire and Michael Chandler vs. Rick Hawn -- were the best the promotion had to offer. Both delivered, with Curran and Chandler showcasing their considerable talents, albeit through totally different methods. No matter how gifted they are, Curran and Chandler are not enough to carry the company as it begins the first year of its relationship with Spike.
Credit Bellator for recognizing this reality, as well. Despite a relatively limited talent pool from which to draw, the Chicago-based organization has added a handful of recognizable names to its roster for upcoming tournaments. In some cases, however, those recognizable names have seen better days.
This was most evident in the tissue-thin 205-pound division, which added Renato Sobral, Seth Petruzelli and Muhammed Lawal to its bracket. Despite these additions, the tournament appeared to be little more than the “King Mo Invitational,” and that was probably just fine for the powers that be, as long as the former Strikeforce kingpin was presented with at least one marquee matchup along the way.
However, Bellator -- and Spike for that matter -- did not get what it bargained for on Thursday at Bellator 85. While neither Sobral nor Petruzelli are at the top of the 205-pound food chain, they were expected to advance past their opening-round matchups. Of course, neither fighter was able to get a win, leaving the promotion and the network with the unenviable task of hyping a Jacob Noe-Mikhail Zayats light heavyweight semifinal.
At this point, a “King Mo” upset loss, though highly unlikely, would be disastrous, especially after Spike devoted an hour-long special to the fighter following Bellator 85. Though improbable, it is certainly not impossible. Unlike Lawal’s TNA Wrestling gig, MMA does not follow a script.
By most definitions, Bellator’s had a solid opening night on Spike. Ratings were up, interest was high and production was improved. To keep that momentum going, the promotion needs its stars to shine. At light heavyweight, Lawal is what is left.